Why Not Raise your AAD Activation Altitude?

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Article and Photo by Johannes Bergfors

“Discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons”

Jim Rohn, entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker

I lost a friend

The death of one of my countrymen and the paralysis of a friend could potentially have been prevented if their reserve canopies were not still streaming when they hit the ground unconscious.

Decision – Raise my Activation Altitude

I changed the Activation Altitudes (AA) of my AAD about a year ago. It took me 5 minutes after downloading the manual to my AAD online. It now activates at 1,050 feet; 300 feet higher than the default altitude on the Cypres 2 which is 750 ft.

Reasons to increase AA

I chose to increase it based on the following reasons:

  • I don’t deploy at 2,500 feet, like people used to do 28 years ago when the Cypres (as the first reliable AAD) was launched and the default altitude 750 feet was set. I deploy 500-700 feet higher than that.
  • I jump a reserve canopy that is tight, but permitted, in my rig.
  • I jump in a mountainous area often, where the terrain elevates 300 feet if I deploy over certain areas.

If I’m still in freefall at 1,050 feet it is quite obvious to me that I need to have some fabric over my head as soon as possible. And at that altitude I’d prefer to have my reserve out – not my main (Valkyrie Hybrid 75 sqft).

Reasons against

The only downside I can think of is obvious: if I deploy my main so low that while I’m snivelling at 1,050 feet I have a downward speed of 102mph (165km/h), the AAD then activates and I end up with both my main and reserve out. Definitely not an ideal scenario either.

However. For me the choice is easy: If I’m in freefall, still conscious and aware, then I can make the deliberate choice of deploying higher or lower. Even if I pull low I would be prepared for a potential shit storm if I end up with two-out. If I’m not conscious I don’t have a say in the matter.

My recommendation is that you increase the activation altitude of your AAD.

Just remember to RTFM!

The Survey

  • 13 professional skydivers answered my survey. I know it’s not many but I wanted to ask only professionals, since they should have considered this the most and make the best arguments for their case.
  • 47% – 6 people don’t intend to increase their AAD activation altitude
  • 38% – (5 people) already increased their AAD activation altitude already (all by 200 feet, to 950 feet)
  • 15% – 2 people intend to increase their AAD activation altitude

The Arguments

All of the participants who decided to increase the AA, or intended to do so, submitted a reason why they took that decision. The reasons they gave were the same as mine but no-one listed all the reasons. One person said: “[After the increase] I do not see an increased risk of having two canopies open“, which I disagree with. But in my opinion that risk is mitigated as long as you know the device’s activation altitude has been increased and then you can change your deployment procedures accordingly.

Another person gave these reasons; “An alarming number of deaths have occurred where reserve canopies have been activated by the AAD but did not open sufficiently before impact to save the jumper. The PIA did a study into this and recommended raising activation altitudes.

“The fashion pressure to produce smaller, ‘sexier’ rigs has led to tight reserve packjobs that tend to take longer to open than in the old days when Cypres was introduced. The 22lbs pull test on the reserve handle can lead reserve packers to increase the length of the reserve closing loop (to reduce pull force), which can mean that, instead of the grommets on the flaps lining up perfectly, giving the loop a straight line of extraction, the flaps pull apart so the loop has to be extracted through a number of S-folds. This can slow down the reserve opening so that 750 feet may not be sufficient time to fully deploy. This makes your ‘last chance’ potentially inadequate.

And, being under an open reserve is only part of the story. To prevent injury, it’s good to have time to clear any twists on the reserve, take off the brakes, find a good place to land and steer the canopy accordingly, ideally with time to turn into wind. An extra 200 – 300 feet makes a lot of difference.”

Out of the six that said they don’t intend to increase the AA only three gave arguments why. These are their arguments: 

“I think 750 feet is high enough to get a reserve out for a save.”
“Haven’t seen convincing evidence that it is needed in most situations.”
“I need to spend more time considering”

When asked what they would recommend others to do they responded:

“On face value it seems the correct idea” [to increase]
“Depends on the person, the terrain at the DZ, and their reasoning towards cutaway altitudes.”
“I would advise to increase”

Those answers speak for themselves as far as I’m concerned. 

What do you think? 

I’m curious of your opinion, both on the poll and of this newsletter. Answer the poll here and contact me here.

Please Share!

If you think this is interesting please share the newsletter using this link: https://www.johannesbergfors.com/newsletter. There you can also find links to previous newsletters. Thank you for reading.


NOTE: In this text I use the Airtec Cypres unit as an example because it’s the unit I know the best. I’m not sponsored by Airtec (although I wouldn’t mind – since I believe that their products, reliability and customer service are superior options.)

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Meet: Johannes Bergfors

Johannes Bergfors is a body flight teacher, a movie maker, a photographer, an event organiser, an idea injector. He lives to induce a twinkle in your eye - whether the reason is awe, a new understanding or a relationship to something or someone new.

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